The Hardin Mem­orial Health Foundation last week approved a $32,500 request to establish a pet therapy program at the hospital called Providing Un­conditional Patient Support, or PUPS.

The funding allows the hosiptial to employ a program manager/dog handler and cover the cost of a full-time facility dog who regularly will visit patients, a news release from the organization said.

Hospital chaplain Jessica Jasper, nurse manager Leeanne Williams, pet therapy volunteer Allison Reed and Baron, one of the hospital’s two volunteer pet therapy dogs, were on hand at the recent foundation board meeting to request the funding and tout the benefits of the program they piloted this past year using volunteer resources.

Jasper explained the distinction between animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy.

“Animal-assisted therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal to help patients recover from or better cope with health problems, such as pain, heart disease, cancer, dementia and mental health disorders,” Jasper said in a release. “Launching PUPS will help HMH improve care using evidence-based therapies that improve patient outcomes.”

According to Jasper, studies show that patients who interact with therapy animals experience reduced pain, anxiety, blood pressure and a lower heart rate.

“HMH cares for nearly 1,000 cancer patients each year, not to mention operating one of the busiest emergency departments in Kentucky,” she said in the release. “Having a therapy dog like Baron readily available to help patients, their families and the HMH staff will have a tremendously positive impact.”

Foundation Chair­man Joe Prather said in the release the foundation board wanted to be the catalyst for the pet therapy program.

“The HMH Foun­dation helps fund break-through initiatives that strengthen the care HMH provides. Providing start-up funds for a pet therapy program fits our mission perfectly,” he said. “I hope individual donors and community groups will join us in supporting pet therapy and HMH can expand it even further.”

Those interested in helping support the program should go to the foundation website at ourhmh.org to donate.

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